Graduate School

I took a step and applied to Virginia Tech’s online graduate school to earn an Instructional Technology Master of Arts degree.  It looks like a good program, and I can do all of my studying online, which will help me a great deal, as I have small children at home and a full time job to think about.  I have been wanting to do this for a while, but frankly hadn’t found the right program to apply to until recently.  It’s kind of exciting to think that this time next year, I might be a Hokie.  Of course, some of you might say I’m already there (har, har).

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Memorizing Literature

Did you ever have to memorize literature for English class?

I did.

My luve is like a red, red rose
That’s newly sprung in June
My luve is like the melodie
That’s sweetly played in tune

As fair art thou, my bonnie lass,
So deep in luve am I
And I shall love thee still, my dear
Till a’ the seas gang dry

Till a’ the seas gang dry, my luve
And the rocks melt wi’ the sun
I shall luve thee still, my dear
While the sands o’ life shall run

And fair thee weel, my bonnie luve,
And fair thee weel a while
And I shall come again, my luve
Though it were ten thousand mile.

If you check out Bartleby, which I did after typing this from memory, you will see I don’t have it 100 percent, but I learned it in 1990 — 18 years ago now — in my 12th grade British literature class.

I know it’s considered passé, but I do ask my students to memorize literature. When I initially make the assignment, the reactions are all pretty much along the lines of What’s the point of doing this? This is crazy! This is impossible! I can’t do it… no, you don’t understand, I really can’t do it.

After my students figure out I mean it, they buckle down and start memorizing. My students who read Macbeth last semester memorized “Out, out, brief candle.” My students reading Romeo and Juliet are in the midst of memorizing (some recited today, and others will tomorrow) Mercutio’s Queen Mab speech, and my students studying Hamlet are memorizing “To be or not to be.”

Once they realized it wasn’t going away, I really admired the way my 9th grade students reading R&J attacked the text. They made sure to tell me what they thought of Mercutio’s delivery of their lines when we discussed the play yesterday. One of my favorite moments in the play was when Mercutio paused dramatically on the line “And in this state she gallops night by night / Through lovers’ brains, and then they dream of…” One of my students impulsively called out “love!” The good-humored actor playing Mercutio pointed and nodded at my student and agreed, “Love!”

Years ago when I last taught A Midsummer Night’s Dream, I asked my students to memorize Titania’s “Set your heart at rest.” The next semester, one of my students showed me the speech, written decoratively and inserted in the cover of her binder. She was really proud of having memorized it, and that speech displayed on her binder was her way of saying she owned that piece of literature.

Ultimately, that’s what memorization does. It’s a gift of ownership over literature. It’s being able to say that poem, that speech, that monologue, that soliloquy is mine. I have read and taught Romeo and Juliet so many times that I have many of the lines memorized, and it makes me happy to be able to recite. Please understand I don’t mean that as a boast. I mean that reciting literature, rolling those words around without having to look them up, makes me feel power over them. It makes me love them and understand them. It makes me feel like a part of the literature as much as the literature is a part of me.

And maybe I’m old fashioned (and that’s OK), but that’s a gift I want to give my students. I’m not naive enough to think all of them accept this gift and keep it, the way I did with the literature I have been required to or have chosen to memorize, but if even one student can say in 18 years “That Queen Mab speech? Yeah, I own that,” then I’ll be satisfied. Of course, I hope more than one student will say that.

That Robert Burns poem? Yeah, I own that.

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Live Theater: Romeo and Juliet at the New American Shakespeare Tavern

J.C. Long and Veronika Duerr as Romeo and JulietI took our ninth grade class to the New American Shakespeare Tavern to see a production of Romeo and Juliet today. My students were well-behaved, which is always a concern for every teacher on a field trip. We all really enjoyed the production. As a long-time fan of the Georgia Renaissance Festival, I am always excited to see GARF performers at the Tavern. J.C. Long, who has played with the musical group the Lost Boys, played the part of Romeo, and he was excellent. Nicholas Faircloth as Mercutio was also brilliant. In fact, the whole cast was wonderful; if you are ever in Atlanta, you really must try to catch a production at the Tavern.

One of the things my students said they liked about the theater experience was the interactivity. The actors frequently played off audience members, which made us all feel like a part of the show. Of course, I know it is often said an audience is a critical part of a successful show, but I’m not sure I always feel so necessary when I’m in an audience. Actors at the Tavern have a way of making you feel as if you are necessary.

This evening as I was talking with my husband, I realized I had made a connection between Web 2.0 and theater. I forgot to keep one of the handy cast lists that the Tavern places on every third seat or so, and I was researching the names of the cast members online. I found the Tavern’s MySpace page as well as those of some of the cast. I added some of them as friends. In his reply to my friend-request message, J.C. Long complimented my students’ engagement and enthusiasm, and I thought, when else have we been able to take down walls like those between actors and audience? Five years ago, I never could have imagined I could see a production, find one of the actors on a social network, and personally compliment him on his performance…. AND receive a personal reply.

It’s an exciting time to be alive, isn’t it?

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Can You Name the Countries of the World?

Geography/social studies teachers, I found a tool you might be able to use with your students.  Sporcle’s games include several geography games (the US and its capitols, the six inhabited continents) that will challenge your students to learn more about their world.  As a bonus, when your students become curious about these countries, they can click on the most missed links on each game, which will not only list the states or countries in order that most people get them correct, but also have Wikipedia links to articles about that place.  As students learn their geography, the challenge will be to improve their speed.  A caveat: the games are hosted on a “sporting oracle” site that could potentially be used for betting purposes.  Another warning: the games are really addictive.

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Video and Animoto

Some of you may already be familiar with Philip Scott Johnson‘s videos on YouTube, but in case you aren’t, here is a sample (one of his more popular videos):

Johnson’s videos have a lot of potential for use in art and social studies classes. In the tradition that a picture is worth a thousand words, his videos will speak volumes to students studying topics as diverse as the Civil War, geography, film, and Picasso.

After your class has viewed a Johnson video, it might be fun for them to use Animoto to create a similar video. Here is an Animoto video I created using old photographs of my family:

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I have enabled Gravatars in the comments. If you don’t have one, you can get one by following the link I provided. Gravatar stands for “Globally Recognized Avatar.” Your Gravatar will be associated with your e-mail address and will appear on every site that allows Gravatars when you leave comments. For instance, Education Wonks uses Haloscan, a commenting system that allows Gravatars. If you don’t have a Gravatar, a generic image will appear next to your comments on websites that allow Gravatars.

If you would like to see what Gravatars look like, just scroll down to a post with some comments. If you select a post on which I commented, you’ll see my Simpsonized image next to my comment.

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Stuff for English Teachers

I recently started using StumbleUpon (here’s my profile) in my Firefox browser to discover new sites, and I feel stupid for not trying it before now. Poking around the Internet for the last week or so, I have “stumbled” upon some good sites (and found some on my own):

  • Read Print has online books. I like the Shakespeare section. I did notice a few typos on the site (Hamnet Shakespeare died in 1596, not 1896), but the articles were interesting.
  • I’ve probably mentioned DailyLit before, but it merits mention alongside Read Print. I don’t think I could have finished Moby Dick if not for DailyLit. I am currently reading Emma. All of us have five minutes for a book each day.
  • Guide to Grammar and Writing has some interesting grammar activities; I found it via SMART’s English/Language Arts Resources.
  • NCTE Inbox is now a blog! I missed the inception when I let my NCTE membership lapse.
  • What Should I Read Next? looks like a great tool for teachers to recommend to students who are looking for books similar to ones they already like.
  • BookMooch enables users to swap books.  It’s free (except for postage).
  • Here’s a huge collection of writing resources.

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Students 2.0

I was thrilled today when my 9th grade students told me they created a study group on Facebook to keep up with work in my class and help each other as they study Romeo and Juliet. When they told me, they were almost sheepish, as if they were afraid they were doing something wrong. I told them it was an excellent use of Facebook, as far as I was concerned. I do wish the students would make use of the commenting aspect of the blog I’ve set up for study purposes, but I am glad they are making use of social networking in such a positive way.

I have asked them to memorize Mercutio’s “Queen Mab” speech, too. Unable to find a complete version of the speech online that they could hear, they created a YouTube video in which one the students reads the speech. Their thinking was that they could play the video and recite along with it. I decided it was an excellent idea. I recorded myself reading the speech in mp3 format so they can download it to their mp3 players and practice on the go. If you are curious, here it is, but don’t laugh at my voice:

Download link

I’m really excited to see my students refute the naysayers and use technology like Facebook and YouTube in such positive and helpful ways. The fact is that if we do teach students how to use these tools for such purposes, they will. I use YouTube in my classroom all the time. Facebook is blocked at school, and I understand why, but I am excited that they use the site at home for schoolwork in addition to socializing.

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Don’t Feed the Trolls

I know quite a few new and prospective teachers and bloggers read this blog based on feedback I’ve received. I wonder if you have yet experienced the Web phenomenon known as the “troll.” Truthfully, I haven’t had too many problems with trolls, though they have occasionally cropped up. I have a clear comments policy, I moderate comments, and frankly, I don’t think much of what I write encourages trolls — it’s not exactly controversial or edgy.

I was utterly astonished when I read Vicki’s post in which she shares her answers to Scott McLeod‘s 2008 Education Blogosphere Survey:

What do you wish you could eradicate in the blogosphere?

Death threats and profanity. Small minds think that they can intimidate voices into being quiet. I am still missing Kathy Sierra terribly and wish she’d give us all a present and come back during 2008.

As recently as last December I received a death threat as well as some comments akin to those sent to Kathy calling me derogatory names and filled with sexual perversion. I wish there was a prefilter before it got to my premoderation or a “spam capture” or “smut capture” with automatic e-mail sent to the person who does it as well as a log of their IP address done automatically. These are a distraction and when they get back to my family, it makes them want me to quit.

When I read that, I thought, “Someone threatened to kill Vicki? I can’t think of a reason why anyone would say something like that to Vicki, who is one of the warmest, most genuine people you’ll ever meet. She is unfailingly positive in her encouragement of other bloggers and teachers, and I can’t for the life of me figure out why anyone would even think of harming her, much less send her a death threat. Frankly, I thought it was scary.

Obviously, if you receive a threat of any kind, I encourage you to report it. However, if it is your garden-variety troll leaving nasty, rude comments, I would ignore them — the reason they are so nasty is that at some point they learned that negative attention is still attention, and they will get attention quicker, in some cases, if they are rude. All these people did was transfer this behavior to the Internet, where it thrives because people feel anonymous and feel shielded by the distance between themselves and the person they are attacking. In fact, I would go so far as to say that most people who make trollish comments online would never say the same things to their target’s face. Most of the time, people will leave you alone if you ignore them.

But it is hard to ignore nastiness. I have my own trouble with it. I recommend doing the following:

  1. Filter your mail. If the person is bothering you via e-mail, see if you can set up a filter that will send their message to the trash without passing through your inbox. G-Mail allows you to do this.
  2. Moderate your comments. I know it can be a pain for new commenters to wait for their comments to be published, but I can assure you that with the large volume of spam and rude comments, it’s absolutely necessary.
  3. Develop a comments policy. Make it one that allows for respectful dissent and conversation. Ultimately, it’s your blog, and you can decide what kind of comments, if any, you will allow. However, if you have a fair comments policy, you should have few arguments about what is posted and what is not. I’d like to think people generally know when they’re crossing the line, but a comments policy will clarify things. Trollers might not bother if they know in advance their comment most likely won’t appear.
  4. Don’t stop blogging. While I respect the decisions made by those who truly felt threatened (Kathy Sierra), I think the trolls win when we quit. Any time you put yourself out there, you run the risk of meeting up with a troll, and they only get what they want when they realize they have bothered you.

Most of all, a piece of sage advice I first read in Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale: “Illegitimi non carborundum.”

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